News Briefs

Kosovo Aid

As the Kosovo conflict escalated, Israelis were torn between sympathies for suffering Albanian refugees and respect for Serbian aid to Jews during the Holocaust. Without openly supporting the NATO bombing campaign, Israel was among the first to deliver food, medicine and material aid to the Kosovar refugees. As thousands fled Serbian atrocities into neighboring states, an Israeli airlift of emergency aid was the first into flooded Macedonia. A fully-equipped IDF army field hospital, compromised of over 100 beds and 70 medical personnel, also was airlifted to Macedonia. The Israelis treated hundreds of patients and delivered at least 6 babies. The Jewish Agency alone has sent more than 100 tons of aid and supplies to the region. Israel also flew 110 Kosovar Albanians to Israel, where they have been provided shelter at a center used to house some 80 Muslim refugees from Bosnia earlier this decade.

Sheinbein Stays

Teenage murder suspect Samuel Sheinbein will be tried in Israel, after an Israeli Supreme Court justice rejected an appeal of a decision not to extradite him to the US. Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein had appealed a 3-2 decision to deny extradition, asking that a larger bench reconsider the matter. Rubinstein pleaded Israel's laws facilitate "the return of Jews to their historic homeland and to build and be redeemed by it- and not to establish a shelter for criminals." In a move to alleviate Israeli-US tensions, Sheinbein swiftly was charged with first degree murder in Tel Aviv District Court. The Knesset also just changed extradition law to close this loophole for fugitives. Sheinbein fled to Israel three days after allegedly murdering fellow teen Alfredo Enrique Tello, Jr. Israel's Supreme Court ruled in February that Sheinbein was an Israeli citizen and could not be extradited back to the US since his father holds an Israeli passport. Israel's handling of the affair has drawn criticism from US law enforcement officials, including Attorney General Janet Reno.

Lockerbie Trial, At Last

Libya finally handed over two nationals wanted for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The two are suspected of planting a suitcase bomb that blew up the airplane, resulting in 270 deaths. Over ten years have elapsed since investigators first demanded they be turned over to face prosecution. In return for the handover, the UN suspended seven years of punishing sanctions against Libya. The two men, Abdel al-Megrahi and Lamen Fhimah, will be tried under Scottish law but in Holland, considered a neutral venue. Prosecutors say evidence will show the two suspects planted the bomb and Libyan involvement in terrorism.

Is This Democracy?

While the EU pushed for a "democratic" Palestinian state, the PA is headed in the opposite direction. Among the latest indicators:

* The Palestinian Association of Attorneys boycotted PA courts to protest what they describe as chaos in the judiciary. The attorneys report judges' decisions are routinely ignored by defendants, and PA police refuse to enforce court orders unless bribed.

* Palestinian police have been implicated in seven unresolved episodes of shooting civilians the past eight months, according to LAW, a Palestinian rights organization.

* Foreign diplomats have reported that Palestinian intelligence is regularly kidnapping Gaza businessmen for ransom. Many businessmen now only leave home accompanied by armed bodyguards, according to The Independent.

* Israel police report that three of four suspects in the killing of an Arab land dealer two years ago are members of PA security forces. At least six Arab land dealers were murdered after the PA declared sales of land to Jews a capital offense in 1997.

Syrian Economy

The State Department's Martin Indyk and other top US officials who have recently visited Damascus are hinting that the Syrian economy is in serious trouble. One congressman went so far as to declare it in "a state of collapse." Per capita production has fallen to less than $900, down from $1,050 in 1995. In 1997 there was a 4.4% decline in production after two years of growth. With oil now forming 70% of revenues, the country continues to be vulnerable to low international oil prices, leading to cutbacks in investments in infrastructure, education and health. Gross domestic product is expected to drop a further 2-4% this year, and the entire harvest could be lost to a worsening drought. Despite the crisis, US sources see no signs of market reforms. The one bright spot for President Assad: some 2-3 million Syrians earning higher wages in occupied Lebanon.

Water Crisis

Israel remains locked in a severe drought. Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan declared 1999 a drought year during an emergency Water Commission meeting. Agricultural water quotas have been slashed 40 percent while concerns mount regarding the Kinneret, Israel's main reservoir of drinking water. Experts warn that over-pumping could leave the lake "salinized," thus unfit for irrigation or drinking. The water crunch caused tensions with Jordan, after Israel informed Amman it may not be able to meet its full water commitment under the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement. The Yarmuk River is at its lowest level since 1908 and the Sea of Galilee is expected to receive only 160 million out of a normal 400 million cubic meters of water this year.

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